Dubai’s got more art galleries and museums than we can count on our fingers and toes and they house some world-class paintings, sculptures, and artwork of all genres, shapes and sizes. But like any cosmopolitan city worth its salt, Dubai’s got a thriving street art scene that spills its history and culture onto the walls of the city in the form of elaborate murals and edgy wall art that expresses the city’s essence and captures its multicultural soul in a way traditional art pieces can’t. You’ve probably already snapped selfies with the cool murals in dining and shopping hubs such as City Walk and La Mer. News flash! There’s more hidden street art in Dubai that you’ll see only if you know where to look.
This is your guide to 4 neighbourhoods in Dubai with street art and murals hiding in their nooks and corners.
1. Prohibited, Satwa
This whimsical mural of two Emirati kids stealthily peering into windows by Julien Maland (aka Seth Globepainter) is our favourite from the series of 16 that have turned this old neighbourhood into an open-air gallery.
Jam-packed with streetside cafeterias, practical shops and a constant swell of humanity flowing through its footpaths, the chances of your gaze missing this mural titled ‘Prohibited’ are high if you’re speeding to grab a seat at legendary Pakistani restaurant Ravi or weaving your way on foot hunting for a cobbler to fix your shoes. It’s strategically positioned on a building facade to jump out at motorists when they draw to a halt at a traffic light. The pleasant scare of witnessing this mischievous mural for the first time is one of our favourite Dubai memories.
All murals in this series are tributes Emirati heritage and olden way of life. You’ll see paintings of founding father H.H Sheikh Zayed, a golden dallah (coffee pot) and kids playing the classic game of hoop rolling with a tyre with a stick.
📍 Location: above Taza outlet on 2nd December Street
2. UP, Karama
A total of 24 murals dot 12 walls of Karama Shopping Complex and give its decades-old tired shopfronts and residential buildings a grungy facelift. Commissioned by Wasl properties during the Ramadan of 2016, this street art series was the result of a collaboration between six well-known Malaysian graffiti artists and two UAE muralists.
There’s a mix of 3D murals, graffiti text and even abstract art, but the mural that gives us the most joy is the cheery painting called ‘Up’ by graffiti illustrator Khatun. Featuring a green Toyota pick-up (Dubai old-timers will remember this) being levitated into the air by a bundle of colourful balloons, staring at this mural is guaranteed to turn any frown upside down. Its blend of nostalgia specific to Dubai merged with an uplifting scene from the beloved Pixar cartoon is what we call an ‘instant dose of serotonin’.
For an extra dose of happiness, venture into one of the kooky shops below these murals that sell knockoff handbags and accessories and the most oddball mixture of thrift fashion you’ll ever lay eyes on. Or stumble down the road into one of its many eateries – Karama is a paradise for food lovers.
📍 Location: 18B street, Karama. Above a shop named Tough
3. Casette Tape, Jumeirah Beach Road
As part of the Dubai Street Museum initiative’s fourth phase, stretches of walls across the Jumeirah neighbhourhood were bestowed with imaginative and sentimental makeovers. A band of 14 artists – both Emirati and international muralists – were enlisted to recreate their memories of/ interpret life in the Jumeirah area (one of Dubai’s first suburbs) as well as the historic professions and ways of life that are integral to the history of the UAE.
It’s hard to pick just one but tough choices must be made and we’ve got a spot for the Cassette. Created by Spanish artist Ampparito, this is a major 90s flashback and represents the retro vibe of Jumeirah whose low-rise vintage villas now house fancy clinics, trendy boutiques, and posh salons. This one’s tricky to spot as it’s been painted on a side wall and is a blink-and-miss surprise if you’re in a car or bus, which makes it a doubly-satisfying find.
Other 29 murals that came to life as part of these series include Emirati muralist Saggaf Al Hashmi’s Emirati mother braiding her daughter’s hair, a pearl diver from yesteryears, and many more.
Ps: When the weather’s nice, a walk around the pedestrian-friendly Jumeirah Beach Road to spot the rest is a fun way to kill time and fill up the ‘gram.
📍 Location: The side wall of Rachna Salon, Villa # 610, Umm Suqeim, Jumeirah 3
4. Sea of Horses, The Walk, JBR
Vibrant leftovers from 2016’s Dubai Canvas 3D art festival brighten hidden alleys and stairways of The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR). Every turn here might unveil a fresh optical illusion or a 3D painting that’s bold and arresting and there are a total of 12 to be found as you amble around.
There’s an arresting mural of a jungle full of giraffes peeking out of a fractured wall in Sadaf block, created by Planet Streetpainting, then there’s an idyllic Mediterranean tableau of a girl joyfully swinging against the backdrop of the sea called Vita Mercurio on Bahar block, and a behemoth of an eagle rising in flight on another building.
What standouts for us though is the majestic mural of horses galloping across the sea against an explosion of multicoloured geometric shapes. Located on a stairway in Rimal block, it feels like you’re walking up the steps and straight into a rainbow.
📍 Location: Rimal block, The Walk, JBR